Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year's Top Trends in Crime Analysis

This is the last post for 2011 here on the blog. I think it’s worth taking a little time to look back at a few of the things I think are the most important crime analysis / policing topics of the year.

Predictive Policing
Predictive policing uses computer statistical algorithms to predict areas where certain types of crimes are more likely to occur. This works best for property crimes such as burglaries and larcenies. Given that these types of crimes make up the bulk of crimes reported to police their reduction could lead to significant crime reductions.

This technology holds a lot of promise because it will help law enforcement agencies focus proactive efforts in areas where it will have the greatest effect. With the nation’s poor economy, most agencies are having to “do more with less”. Predictive policing could lead to a more efficient policing strategy. If officers are more effective and drive property crimes down, they will then have more discretionary time to devote to other proactive enforcement efforts which in turn could lead to further crime reductions.

Falling Crime Rates
There have been a number of news stories out this year, and even this week about the fall in crime rates as reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program. Quite a number of the stories have speculated as to the “why” of this trend.

My opinion is that widespread adoption of data driven strategies by law enforcement has played a role in reducing crime. Nearly every law enforcement agency regardless of size has adopted one of these strategies whether it be called COMPSTAT, DDACTS, POP, or any of the other myriad of acronyms for them.

Regardless of what you call your program, the important thing is that they are data driven so that an agency can focus their limited resources where they will have the greatest effect. You are seeing more agencies include a crime analysis function in their operations to help analyze the data. This is a really good thing.

As researchers and criminologists spend more time looking at the “why” behind the falling crime rates we might see more of a consensus about what works. Then, whatever that turns out to be, we need to do more of it.

Social Media
We’ve seen a widespread adoption of social media by law enforcement agencies. While this trend didn’t start in 2011, it surely accelerated. In my county alone we’ve got agencies from a small four man department to the largest agency in the county with a Facebook and/or Twitter presence.

Given the huge numbers of folks on these social media sites, it’s important for law enforcement agencies to have a presence on them as well. If your agency is going to interact with the citizens you serve, you have to go where those citizens are.


What do you think the most important crime analysis or law enforcement topics were for the year?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Missing Persons Detectives Often Start From Scratch

Earlier this week the Austin American Statesman had this interesting story about Austin PD's Missing Persons Unit.
When missing-persons investigators take on a case, they have nothing but a blank slate. There is no crime scene, like in homicide or narcotics cases. No body to examine, or drug route to track. No informant. No evidence. 
Sometimes, it has been weeks since a loved one disappeared. Other times, it's months. Often the caller has only a vague notion of where the person was last seen or might be headed. In the most difficult of circumstances, relatives have needed help looking for a family member who "stopped calling a few years ago and might have once lived in South Austin — or wait, maybe it was North — they're not sure," Gann said. 
"We have to start from scratch: building who this person is, asking what are their habits, where would they often go," Gann said. That is when the little things matter most: Did she or he have a favorite place that friends can remember? What words were exchanged before the disappearance? Was the person right-handed or left?
The vast majority of missing persons cases involve juvenile runaways. The good thing is that in most cases, they will be located or come home on their own volition. The more difficult cases often involve missing adults.

Not every police agency has a dedicated missing persons unit. One important resource for any police agency in Texas that is working a difficult missing persons case is the Texas Department of Public Safety's Missing Person's Clearinghouse. They can provide invaluable assistance in working these cases.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Back As Crime Continued To Decline in 2011

As the calendar counts down towards the end of 2011 we're seeing the inevitable bunch of retrospective news stories about the events of 2011. One subject that I think is important is the continued decrease in crime nationwide. The Washington Post had a piece looking back at this subject.
Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000. Property crimes such as burglary also fell sharply during that period; auto theft, once the bane of urban life, dropped an astonishing 64 percent. And FBI data released Dec. 19 show that the trends continued in the first half of 2011. With luck, the United States could soon equal its lowest homicide rate of the modern era: 4.0 per 100,000, recorded in 1957.
I don't doubt that within a couple of days after the start of the New Year, my Chief will be marching to my office to get an idea of what our stats books will look like since we'll have closed the books on 2011. This is something that is likely to be repeated in police department's across the country.

In some agencies, their local trends will be good, in others theirs will be bad and in many they'll be mixed. The good thing is that as a whole, crime is down in the United States. The challenge for us in 2012 is to continue this progress. Sure, we face challenges with the economy. But if we continue to work smarter and let the data drive our operations we'll keep driving crime down. This is a crime trend worth keeping.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Popularity of Online Purchases Mean More Porch Pickings

Like lots of folks, I find myself purchasing more and more items online rather than from traditional "brick and mortar" stores. The boom in packages being delivered has also started a trend in "porch picking" thieves who are taking these unsecured deliveries from the porches of victims. There was a piece over at the Boston Globe that looked at these types of thefts.

The dismal state of the economy - and the uptick in online shopping and shipping - seems to be making conditions ripe for porch-picking.

“There seems to be more of a rash this year,’’ said Quincy Police Captain John Dougan, who considers the thefts crimes of opportunity.

An October consumer survey found that nearly 47 percent of consumers intended to do at least some of their shopping online, up from 44 percent last year, the National Retail Federation reported. That makes for plenty of deliveries: The United Parcel Service, alone expects to deliver some 120 million packages this week - with its peak day exceeding a normal day’s volume by 60 percent, said Ronna Branch, UPS spokeswoman.

Even in the sleepy little burg where I work, I've noticed a few more incidents of these types of thefts lately.

The solution to this crime problem is likely going to lie in encouraging potential victims to better protect themselves by taking some common sense precautions if they are expecting a package to be delivered such as have the items delivered to their workplace or requesting that the package be held at the delivery terminal. Insuring purchases or expensive items can save them from taking a hit should their item get stolen.

Has your agency seen an increase in "porch picking"? What strategies have you found to be most effective in combatting these types of thefts?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anonymous Tips Solve Crimes Especially Through Social Media

There was a story last week over at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that detailed the way police in Maine are using anonymous tips to solve crimes in their communities. From the story:

"We've gotten tips on things like homicides all the way down to panhandlers bothering people," says Portland Police Commander Vern Malloch. His department allows people to text anonymous tips to police. Malloch says that thousands of tips have come through Text-A-Tip more than a year after the program started.

"It's helped us solve other crimes, like burglaries and things like that," he says. "Folks provide the information but don't want to get involved beyond that."

Other departments around Maine are trying to generate tips by harnessing social media such as Facebook. "A lot of what we use it for is if we're looking for a suspect and we have still photographs or something that we're trying to identify," says Andy Robitaille, a crime analyst for the Lewiston Police Department who helps oversee a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a newly-launched Google+ page.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we've had good success with using anonymous tipster programs like CrimeStoppers to solicit tips and solve crimes. One use that has been particularly successful is to use CrimeStoppers to locate and arrest wanted fugitives. In fact, in one recent case with had tipsters calling within minutes after posting information about a fugitive on our CrimeStoppers Facebook page.

We'll cross post information about crimes and fugitives on both our agency's Facebook page and the CrimeStoppers page to get the most exposure. These posts are also sent out via our department's Twitter feed.

We've found that using social media to publicize these crimes work well because it often times bypasses the editorial filter imposed by traditional media. This isn't to say that traditional media isn't important but you can't rely on them to place the same importance on your press release about a wanted check forger as you do. On a slow news day they may run a piece on it, but if something bigger happens elsewhere in the world, your press release will likely end up in the trash.

If you have worked to develop an engaging social media presence, your audience will still get the message that you are looking for information on that criminal even if a natural disaster half a world away diverts the attention of your local newsroom.

What are you doing to encourage citizens in your community to provide tips on local crimes and criminals? How do you integrate this into your agency's social media presence?

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Officers Dying In Ambushes, But Why?

USA Today had a good story on an awful topic: the increase in police officer deaths due to ambush style attacks. From the story:
Yet in 63 of the 65 shooting deaths that the Justice Department has analyzed this year, 73% were the result of ambush or surprise attacks, said Josh Ederheimer, deputy director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services Office. 
"It is an incredibly large number," Ederheimer said. 
Earlier this year, a USA TODAY review of officer deaths highlighted a rising number of ambush slayings. In that August review, nearly 40% of the shooting deaths at that time were attributed to ambush or surprise attacks. That number was up from 31% in all of 2009, according to the most recent FBI study.
Let's hope we can get to the bottom of this trend and reverse it. If ever there was a trend that needed to be reversed, this would be it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sleepy Cops Are Bad News

NPR recently had a piece about a unique study of how the lack of sleep affects police officers. Anyone who has worked in law enforcement will tell you, shift work, long hours and unpredictable schedules wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. The study listed these findings:
  • Those who screened positive for a sleep disorder had a 25 percent higher risk of expressing uncontrolled anger to a suspect or citizen, and a 35 percent higher chance of having a citizen complaint filed against them.
  • Sleep-deprived officers had 51 percent greater odds of falling asleep while driving on duty.
  • One in three officers has sleep apnea – waking up repeatedly because breathing has temporarily stopped. That's at least 8 times higher than the rate among the general population.
  • They had a 43 percent higher chance of making a serious administrative error.
This story comes on the heels of recent FAA rules that limit the amount of hours a pilot can work to reduce the chances that a sleep deprived pilot will make a fatal error. 

Of course, while there are rules about how long a pilot or a truck driver can work without rest, there are no rules about how long a police officer can work without sleep. Yet, the idea that a sleep deprived officer will suddenly be called to make a split second life or death decision is pretty scary indeed. 

Back when I was a sworn officer, the longest stretch I worked without a break was 36 hours straight. I can't imagine that by the time the 35th hour rolled around I was in too good a shape to make any serious life or death decision. In fact, I can't imagine I was in any shape to even make a decision about where to get a cup of coffee. 

While agencies may have their own rules about how long an officer can work without rest, there are likely many agencies that have no such rules. Maybe it's about time they do. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bill Bratton On Why Crime Continues To Go Down

Yesterday I posted about the FBI's release of the preliminary 2011 Uniform Crime Report numbers that showed crime was still on the decline for the first half of 2011. CBS had this story with a good quote from former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton on why crime numbers continue to drop in spite of the poor economy.
"In the 1990s, policing got it right," Bratton told "Early Show" anchor Chris Wragge. "We began to focus once again on preventing crime; '60s, '70s, '80s, we focused on responding to crime. It's a lot different to try to prevent it, and we've become very successful at preventing it."

Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox disputes the popular myth that crime should be going up in a bad economy.

"They're using technology; they're using data, crime patterns, maps to figure out where are the hot spots, what's the trend in terms of crime and trying to be proactive," Fox said of law enforcement agencies. "People are either criminals or not, independent of whether they have a job.
Crime analysis really shows it's worth in helping law enforcement agencies to more efficient in their policing mission by letting the data drive their operations.

What are you doing to help your agency be more proactive?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The First Half of 2011 Was Good, What Will The Second Half Hold?

As the year winds down, many law enforcement agencies are getting ready to put their end of the year crime statistics together. In a taste of what's to come for 2011 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) numbers, the FBI released the preliminary report for the first half of 2011. CNN had this in their story on the release:

Overall, violent crimes were down 6.4%, while property crimes fell 3.7% when compared with figures from the first six months of 2010.

...

"Although we can all be encouraged that violent crime rates continue to decline nationwide, it is clear that we must remain vigilant and more work remains to be done," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement released with the semiannual statistics. "In recent months, we have seen an alarming spike in law enforcement fatalities and the number of line-of-duty law enforcement deaths. This is appalling and unacceptable."

For the most part, things are looking good at my agency. How's the 2011 numbers looking at your agency? In what ways are you letting the data drive your operations?

Monday, December 19, 2011

If You Think Your Old UCR Rape Numbers Were Bad, Just Wait

Last week the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) released a report detailing the results of a survey they did looking into intimate partner violence. One part of the survey dealt with the prevalence of rape. The numbers are alarming with nearly 1 in 5 women reporting that they had been the victims of rape at some point.

In what's probably going to lead to even more shocking statistics, the Director of the FBI just approved changing the archaic, 1930's era Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) definition of rape. The Baltimore Sun had a piece on this change that included this:

Since the 1920s, rape has been defined as forcible penile penetration of a female. The definition does not include oral and anal penetration, penetration when a victim was unconscious or male victims.

The new definition includes "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

The changes in this definition are long overdue. In the sleepy little burg where I work we had a serial rapist who had attacked several female victims. Because of the way that some of the attacks were committed, not all of his attacks were counted as part of our annual UCR Rape numbers that year. This is a travesty.

While the changes are long overdue, I don't know if the public is really ready for the huge uptick in rape numbers in their community. Just like the CDC numbers were pretty shocking, I think the new UCR numbers will be as well. Hopefully, this will lead to providing adequate resources to combat the problem of sexual assault.

Is your agency ready to explain the difference in your rape statistics once the new UCR definition takes effect?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Las Vegas Cops Go To Great Lengths To Nab Boosting Rings

Yesterday, I posted about organized shoplifting rings in Oregon. Later, I found this story at the Las Vegas Sun about how Las Vegas area cops are combating this problem in their jurisdiction with an approach I haven't seen before. 
Enter the Retail Apprehension and Prevention team, or RAP for short. The new undercover initiative operates on a similar premise: Plainclothes officers work in teams, blending in as customers while scouring stores for the crime rings, Seifert said. 
It’s a hunting game as officers discreetly track the suspects from one store to another, watching as they steal hordes of goods, police said. Once officers determine the suspects have established a pattern, they drop their shopper fa├žades and make arrests.
This approach may only make sense in areas with a high concentration of organized shoplifting rings. However, if your jurisdiction is being ate up with boosters, then it might be worth exploring. I'm sure your retailers would appreciate the help.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Organized Shoplifting Requires An Organized Response

Shoplifting is a problem for retailers all year long but the problem becomes particularly acute during the busy holiday shopping season. Oregonlive.com has this story about the problems the Pacific Northwest region is having with organized shoplifting rings.
"The bad guys don't have jurisdictional boundaries," said Tacoma Police Officer Scott Stanley, who created the nation's first multi-state alliance against organized retail theft. The alliance has a list of more than 600 retail members -- car shops, mall stores and supermarkets -- in states ranging from Washington and Oregon to California and Alaska. 

"The Pacific Northwest is unique: Nowhere else that I've studied sees so much mobility of thieves," Stanley said. "These guys can start in Seattle in the morning, hit I-5 and wind up in California by the end of it, stopping at every store along the way."
Better communications between retailers likely to be victimized and law enforcement is critical to shutting down these organized criminals. Even if your jurisdiction doesn't have a significant problem with organized retail theft rings, a partnership between retailers and police can pay dividends in combatting retail theft.

The Center For Problem Oriented Policing has a POP Guide covering shoplifting with great information on various responses to retail thefts.

What is your agency doing to partner with retailers in response to retail thefts?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You Can Find Anything On Craigslist, Even Victims

The Las Vegas Sun had an article that pointed to a trend we are even seeing in the sleepy little burg where I work, that is robbers setting up victims by luring them with offers of cheap merchandise on Craigslist.

The setup goes something like this: A “seller” posts an ad for an item such as an iPad or an expensive watch — often at an incredibly low price. He lures in a prospective buyer then arranges a meeting, perhaps in a remote parking lot in the evening.

When the buyer shows up with the cash, instead of getting a great deal, he gets a gun pointed in his face and is robbed.

For some reason, it seems like the victim's normal sense of caution goes out the window when they are getting a "deal" on Craigslist. It's likely that one of the most effective way of dealing with these types of robberies is to educate potential victims on safe ways to pursue these types of transactions so they can avoid becoming a victim in the first place.

Have you seen many Craigslist related robberies reported to your agency? How is your agency working on educating the public about these types of crimes?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuba Thefts Plague High School Bands

I hadn't heard of this trend but it makes sense. Apparently, tubas are such a hot commodity in the southern California area that their popularity has created a rash of tuba thefts according to this piece over at the LA Times.
Those are just the latest in what police and music instructors are describing as a rash of unsolved tuba thefts at high schools in southeast Los Angeles County. The thefts, according to band leaders, were probably spurred by Southern California's banda music craze, as well as the high prices the brass instruments fetch on the black market. A high-quality tuba can cost well more than $5,000, but even an old, dented tuba can sell for as much as $2,000, music teachers say.
I posted before about the acronym CRAVED that is used to describe items that are hot commodities for thieves. The acronym stands for:
  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.
This comes from Chapter 31 of  the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. Knowing what items are CRAVED in your area can help you focus on strategies to combat these types of crimes. In this instance, since we know that school bands are most likely to have this CRAVED item, we could focus prevention efforts on hardening the target locations and instituting practices that might make these types of thefts harder to pull off. 

What items are CRAVED in your jurisdiction right now?

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Small Town In The Middle Of New York City

The New York Times had a piece this weekend on a side of New York City I never knew existed. Roosevelt Island is a small island between Manhattan and Queens. The part that struck me was that because of it's unique geography, Roosevelt Island was more like a small town than an area in one of the world's largest most cosmopolitan cities.
It is a law enforcement curiosity. Technically part of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island pays for its own Public Safety Department and 37 peace officers. They are trained by the state with special New York City patrolman status, meaning they can make arrests and issue summonses. Three are plainclothes detectives. All are unarmed. 
“This is New York City,” Chief Guerra said, “so crime does occur here.” A given week might bring a graffiti complaint or a small-bore drug arrest. But seven burglaries in and around the same apartment complex in June constituted a full-blown crime wave.
This is definitely not what I think of when I think of Main Street, USA.

Friday, December 9, 2011

As If Katrina Wasn't Enough, Killings Soar In The Big Easy

The New York Times had a great piece yesterday on New Orleans struggle with a off the charts homicide rate.

Of all the challenges facing the city of New Orleans, none is as urgent or as relentlessly grim as the city’s homicide rate. It was measured at 10 times the national average in 2010, long before shootings on Halloween night in the crowded French Quarter revealed to a larger public what was going on in poor neighborhoods around the city every week. There were 51 homicides per 100,000 residents here last year, compared with less than 7 per 100,000 in New York or 23 in similar-size Oakland, Calif.

“From September of last year to February of this year,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a recent speech, after reciting a litany of killings from one city high school, “a student attending John McDonogh was more likely to be killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.”

Unfortunately, for the citizens of New Orleans, they're in the middle of a perfect storm. A dysfunctional and sometimes corrupt police department, poverty and societal upheaval have fostered a lack of trust between citizens and the government entities that should be working to make their community safer. Until the police and the community can work together, it's not likely that they are going to get a handle on this anytime soon.

It makes me glad I work in a community that has a much better relationship with the citizens we serve.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Metal Theft Causes Lots Of Problems For Public Agencies

The San Francisco Chronicle had this story about the problem metal thefts are becoming for public agencies like the Bay Area Rapid Transit system or BART. A recent theft on a BART transportation project caused a $500,000 loss and a 10 month delay after thieves stole cables for their copper.

BART officials said they intend to spearhead a task force on metal theft in hopes of reducing a problem vexing numerous public agencies, utilities and businesses, costing millions of dollars a year.

One potential partner: Vallejo, where city officials said Tuesday that thieves have stripped copper wire from 77 streetlights and signal lights at five intersections since May. The cash-strapped city has been unable to replace much of the wiring, plunging some streets into darkness and forcing three of the intersections to be turned into four-way stops.

The thefts in the bankrupt city of Valejo has left traffic signals out after thieves stealing $25 worth of copper are causing tens of thousands in damages that the city can't afford to fix.

The piece goes on to quote Brandon Kooi who authored the Problem Oriented Policing Center POP Guide The Problem of Scrap Metal Theft. This POP Guide is a good place to start if you are trying to develop a problem oriented policing strategy for dealing with metal thefts in your area.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When Times Are Tight You Gotta Cut Somewhere, Even Funeral Escorts

This isn't the first story from cash strapped Detroit, but there was a story over at the Detroit News where they indicated that to save money Detroit Police are no longer going to provide police escorts for funeral processions in most cases.

"Most police departments provide escorts based on the availability of officers, and our members are seeing that there just aren't as many officers available as there used to be," said Douma.

Budget-conscious, manpower-strapped police departments have ended funeral accompaniments. Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are among the cities that have stopped providing escorts in recent years, except for funerals of police officers, firefighters or soldiers killed in battle.

Earlier this year, Detroit Police announced that they were moving to a verified response policy for handling alarm calls in order to save money.

If there is a silver lining to the poor economy one thing has to be that police are rethinking if they services they currently provide really are part of their mission. In the case of funeral escorts, does making sure that everyone gets from the funeral home to the graveside in an orderly procession really contribute to the mission of crime suppression? If it doesn't, then why were we doing it in the first place?

If times were tight at your agency, what services could you cut without impacting your primary mission of crime suppression or public safety?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Most Shoplifted Product: Meat

Adweek had an interesting piece last week that looked at some of the stats behind shoplifting. Some of them, including the top ten most shoplifted items were interesting.
"Seventy percent of shoplifters tell us they didn't plan to shoplift," says Barbara Staib, spokesperson for the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention. 
We also know that three-quarters of shoplifters aren't troubled teens; they're adults--most with jobs. And 35 percent of losses will happen with the help of a corrupt employee.
 The article also states that retailers expect to lose $119 billion dollars this year due to shoplifters.

The Center For Problem Oriented Policing has a POP Guide for Shoplifting. Many of the responses recommended are not so much issues for the police as for the retailers themselves. That being said, it's important for local police to work with retailers to help reduce their victimization.

How does your agency reach out to local businesses to help them prevent retail theft?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Your Car May Save You From A Redlight Runner

Wired.com had a piece this weekend about researchers from MIT who have developed an algorithm to predict vehicles that are likely to run a red light. Previous attempts at predicting this behavior weren't accurate enough to make the technology viable. It appears that researchers have gotten it down to an algorithm with an 85% accuracy.

“Even though your light might be green, it may recommend you not go because there are people behaving badly that you may not be aware of,” said Jonathan How, an aeronautics and astronautics professor who co-created the algorithm.

One of my favorite mantras is that you "can't always arrest you way out of a crime problem". This also goes for traffic problems. It may be that the solution to the danger of red light runners isn't writing more tickets, but instead finding ways for people to avoid dangerous situations in the first place.

Better engineering has significantly improved highway safety whether it's better designed cars or better designed roadways. It also doesn't have the stigma that's associated with traffic enforcement, that is, that traffic enforcement is more about revenue generation and less about making roadways safer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Big Data" Holds Promise For Police Too

This isn't directly related to crime but does have an indirect application to crime analysis. NPR had a story this week on how companies are searching for people with analytical or mathematical expertise to analyze the large data sets they collect.

"There's one common element across all these people that stands out above everything, and that's curiosity," Patil says. "It's an intense curiosity to understand what's behind the data."

He compares raw data to clay: shapeless until molded by a gifted mathematician. A good mathematician can write algorithms that can churn through billions or trillions of data points and show where patterns emerge.

Not only do businesses have troves of "big data" they can mine for information, but most law enforcement agencies do as well. For instance I put together a data set of over 1 million of our Call For Service records the last time I redrew our beat boundaries. This is why the field of predictive policing looks so promising. The big data we hold is the key for making our agencies better at solving crime problems in our community.

Of course most agencies aren't in a position to hire a mathematician to mine their data. However, as the technology matures it should trickle down to where we can get at it. This makes me hopeful that we can use these techniques to serve our communities.

How does you agency use your "big data" to drive your operations?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting The Edge On Drug Trafficker Whac-A-Mole In Mexico

Slate Magazine had this article on using computer models to predict where drug traffickers will move their shipment routes to in response to enforcement crackdowns in Mexico.

Dell uses Dijkstra’s algorithm first to model the routes that cost-minimizing traffickers would take on Mexico’s roadways and then to predict how these paths would change if disrupted by PAN victories along a route. It turns out that this model—combining simple assumptions about traffickers’ transport costs with an exercise in using Google Maps—is remarkably predictive of how trafficking routes are affected by PAN-led crackdowns that effectively sever paths on the road network: Drug confiscations in the communities where Dell predicts traffickers will relocate to following a crackdown increase by about 20 percent in the months following close PAN victories. It’s a reminder that crime fighting is a bit like Whac-A-Mole—smothering traffickers’ activities in one locale merely causes them to shift their operations elsewhere. Dell finds that drug-related homicides also go up in places that her model predicts will lie on traffickers’ new paths from Mexican drug labs to the U.S. border. (And she finds tentative evidence that towns on newly created routes see a decline in informal sector wages, presumably since drug traffickers also run protection rackets along their smuggling routes, which primarily victimize small shopkeepers and others in the informal economy.)

The whole piece is an interesting read on just how economics plays a role in criminal enterprises like drug trafficking. I think it also shows the promise that technology like GIS can have in understanding and ultimately interrupting these illicit economies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whose Really To Blame For Crime Ridden Apartments?

The UPI website had this interesting crime story on a study of crime at apartment complexes in Ohio. University of Cincinnati doctoral student Kathleen Gallagher looked at the correlation between apartment complexes with high crime and disorder and the prevalence of tenants on Section 8 or public assistance.
"Several owners had high numbers of properties with Section 8 tenants and with crime, but we found that these owners also had high crime properties without Section 8 tenants," Gallagher said in a statement. 
"This suggested that the property owners themselves might have created or allowed environments where offenders felt comfortable committing crime." 
In other words, problem landlords seemed to be the root of the problem, not whether residents were using Section 8 housing vouchers or not, Gallagher said.
What I found most interesting is that it wasn't the tenants that were the root of the problem but the management of these complexes. There are a lot of similarities between crime and disorder problems at apartment complexes and similar problems at budget motels.

In fact, Gallagher's findings are similar to findings on studies of disorder at budget motels that was published in the Problem Oriented Policing Center's POP Guide Disorder At Budget Motels that had this bit:
Motels attract crime, in that people inclined to commit it are drawn to them because their conditions and reputations are favorable for doing so. Poorly managed motels also enable crime by attracting offenders to a location with weak oversight.
There is also a similar conclusion in the POP Guide Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes.

If we remember the Crime Triangle we know that for crime to occur we have to have a motivated offender come together with a suitable victim in time and place.

Applying the Crime Triangle to look at crime and disorder at these apartment complexes or at budget motels we will probably find that many of these problematic locations have different offenders and different victims coming together in these locations. The one constant is the location. When management of the location is inadequate in extending control over the place these locations will make it easier for offenders and victims to come together and for a crime to occur.

If we are going to be effective at tackling crime and disorder problems at apartment complexes that have a disproportionate amount of police calls, we're going to have to convince landlords to change the environment in their complexes.

What has your agency done to motivate the owners of troubled apartments to work with you in solving crime and disorder problems at these locations?

Thanks to Julie Wartell on the IACA mailing list for the heads up on the Ohio study story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's More Than One Way To Reduce Inner City Crime

Slate Magazine had an interesting article last week that looked at John Jay College professor David M. Kennedy's book Don't Shoot. The piece is a good read and had this interesting bit:
Don’t Shoot is Kennedy’s journey into the bizarre and often counterintuitive world of criminal justice policy. Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is best known for helping to bring about the so-called “Boston Miracle.” In1990, youth homicide in Boston had reached historic heights and trust between cops and minority residents was at a nadir. Kennedy’s team mined the data to find that a small, hard-core group of offenders were committing the vast majority of Boston’s violent crime. They brought this “moneyball” approach to police and community leaders, and soon they were reaching out to the perpetrators in open town hall meetings. They adopted a carrot-and-stick approach: one more homicide and the police will make nightly arrests, confiscate drugs, call in the Fed, and do whatever else it might take to bring down profits and make life miserable. No killings and you’ll get services, housing subsidies, and help finding jobs.
This is an interesting approach, one that is much more nuanced than the typical "get tough" approach to crime that we hear from politicians here in Texas. While the idea of negotiating with criminals isn't very palatable, engaging the entire community in dealing with crime problems would probably make that part a bit easier to take. If we are really going to be effective in dealing with nagging crime problems we have to get everyone involved.

The piece from Slate is worth the read. Hit the link to read it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Predictive Policing Roundup

There were a number of stories in the news this weekend that talked about predictive policing. Here is a roundup of some of the more interesting ones:

The first piece over at NPR has this bit:

UCLA anthropologist Jeff Brantingham says he's not surprised. Human behavior, especially when in search of resources, follows very predictable patterns. For his doctoral work, Brantingham studied foraging strategies of ancient hunter-gatherers in Mongolia.

"It's surprising how similar the problems are," he said. "How it is that ancient hunter-gatherers found gazelles on the Mongolian steppes is very similar to how it is that offenders find a car to steal."

I'd have never guessed how similar thieves are to ancient Mongol hunter-gatherers. NPR also has a companion audio piece of an interview with former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton where he talks about how predictive policing fits into the future of policing.

The Mercury News has a piece on Santa Cruz Police and their predictive policing program being named by Time Magazine as one of the year's top inventions. In the story is this bit:

The program can also help ease the pain of departments dealing with shrinking staffing due to budget cuts, a matter of increasing importance given the nation's economic troubles.

"Technological programs like this can help equalize the gap there," said Friend.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel also mentioned Santa Cruz PD's predictive policing program in this story that looked a some crime numbers from Santa Cruz.

I think the next few years are going to be very interesting where predictive policing technology is concerned. Now if I can just apply some of this ancient Mongolian hunter-gathering mojo to some of the crooks in my jurisdiction.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From The Crime Analyst's Blog

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
While you're enjoying your time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, don't forget to say a prayer of thanks for all those in law enforcement who'll be working today. While they would probably rather be watching football, eating and drinking with their loved ones, they will dutifully be on the job to keep your community safe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Does The Public Really Have A Right To Listen To Police Radios?

USA Today had a story this week that indicated that more law enforcement agencies are encrypting their police radio transmissions to thwart eavesdroppers with malicious intent. What I thought was interesting in the article was this bit:
The transition to encryption has put police departments at odds with the news media, who say their newsgathering is impeded when they can't use scanners to monitor developing crimes and disasters. Journalists and scanner hobbyists argue that police departments already have the capability to communicate securely and should be able to adjust to the times without reverting to full encryption. 
Should the police make decisions about their practices based on whether it makes it easier for the media to do their jobs (and ultimately make a buck), or if it will give hobbyists something to do? It seems to me that the primary role of the police is to suppress crime and make their communities a safer place to live. It's arguable whether making things easier for a reporter to get the scoop on crime stories has much of an effect on this role.

As a twenty year law enforcement veteran I have seen quite a number of instances where the bad guys have been listening in on our radios. Fortunately where I work these incidents don't happen every day. So realistically, it's not a huge threat, but it is a threat nonetheless. The part I have trouble with is that our tactical decisions should be based on what's best for us and our community, not what is easiest for a news reporter.

When we start basing tactical decisions on what makes for good TV we end up with this kind of nonsense.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Less Cops Equals Less Arrests

An Associated Press story over at NJ.com has an analysis that isn't really too surprising, the consequences of police layoffs in New Jersey have led to a reduction in arrests for minor offenses.
An Associated Press analysis of municipal court data shows that when police are laid off, department priorities shift: Arrests and summonses of all kinds drop, with enforcement for minor crimes and traffic violations suffering the most as police focus their remaining resources on more serious offenses. 
The strategy may make sense, but experts say it leaves a troubling gap in law enforcement. 
"People are committing crimes and they're not suffering the consequences for it," said Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk. "I think it has emboldened those who are committing the crimes. They do not get arrested, and consequently, they continue committing these crimes."
Of course this doesn't bode well for the future if this continues. There is a belief that pursuing criminal cases for relatively minor quality of life issues can lead to declines in other types of crimes. This theory is sometimes referred to as the "broken windows theory". Additionally, arrests for minor offenses are a tool to take serious criminals off the streets. This keeps them from committing more serious crimes.

Either way, there are real consequences to the drastic cuts we saw take place in New Jersey and other cash strapped municipalities. While we can strive to be as efficient as possible and stretch our budget dollars, there does come a point where a reduction in budget monies will lead to a reduction in police services.

For the public, they have to decide what level of police services they are willing to pay for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Shoppers Aren't The Only Bargain Hunters During The Holidays

The Merced Sun Star had a piece last week on the increase in certain types of crime in the Merced, California area during the holidays.

Sheriff's Cmdr. B.J. Jones said the spike in crime is also in large part due to a lack of awareness by holiday shoppers. "It is absolutely a known fact that during the holidays, a lot more burglaries occur based on the shopping season," he said. "All the thieves know to go to the malls and the shopping centers and they look in cars and people don't secure their items in there -- they don't hide them."

Criminals will also take advantage of expensive gifts left under Christmas trees, Jones added. "Thieves definitely take advantage of the holidays to victimize people," he said.

At the agency where I work, we are already gearing up for the holidays with our annual program of high visibility patrols in and around our major shopping and retail areas. A conversation that came up during a recent planning meeting was that not only was it important to prevent crimes in and around these areas, but it is also just as important to reduce the public's fear of crime in these areas during this time of year.

Crimes related to the holidays aren't the only type of seasonal crimes. Some types go up in the summer, others at other times of year. Some are unique to communities that have regular big events such as Mardi Gras. The good thing is that since these events regularly occur, we can plan ahead for them.

What kinds of seasonal crimes spike in your community? What are you doing to help combat these crimes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thief Barbecues Neighbor's Goat, Gets Charged With Felony

From the "Only in Texas" file comes this story over at the Austin American Statesman:

Aguirre told the detectives he stole the goat and took it to a home where it was butchered, the affidavit said. Aguirre told them the goat was barbecued and served to people in the Apache Shores neighborhood near Lake Travis, the affidavit said.

He told detectives he took that goat because it was “very gentle, like a dog,” the affidavit said.

That is gonna turn out to be some very expensive cabrito.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More On Predictive Policing

Computerworld had a story this week on efforts at developing predictive policing technology by both Los Angeles Police and Santa Cruz Police. The article is worth the read and had some good info in it, including this bit:
The theory is that predictive analytics might work better on property crimes because the targets are stationary and the nature of the targets doesn't change that much over time, he says, unlike crimes where the victims are mobile and change their behaviors. 
Criminologists find it's easier to predict these types of crimes because there are patterns regarding where and when they occur. For example, burglaries tend to be clustered in terms of time and location and the individuals committing these crimes tend to have predictable patterns--usually they commit them somewhere near their homes or near familiar locations. 
Additionally, property crimes are not displaceable crimes, which means if police departments target these crimes in particular areas, the criminals won't simply move two miles to another location.
I've covered predictive policing in a number of previous posts. Like many crime analysts, I am waiting for the methodology to trickle out to the masses as it's something I'd like to be able to implement at my agency. Of course, I'd also like to be able to do it on the cheap, because like nearly every other law enforcement agency in the country, I don't have the budget to be able to purchase an expensive commercial data mining software package.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lodi Police Officer Turns Journalist To Get The Message Out

The Lodi News-Sentinel has a column called Behind The Badge that is written by Lt. Chris Piombo of the Lodi, California Police Department. In this piece, Piombo analyzes local vehicle burglary trends in order to get the word out to the community he serves.
There were 38 auto burglaries in the city of Lodi between Oct. 8 and Nov. 8. That's about one burglary per day in a city of over 60,000 residents. Pretty good. And that's the second-lowest monthly total for the past year. Pretty good times two. 
Here are some shared factors I found among those 38 burglaries. Think about them as you decide where to park your car. 
As expected, the vast majority of the burglaries occurred at night. Suspects mostly broke into cars parked on the street or in the driveway. Thirteen of the thefts occurred during the daylight hours. Sixteen break-ins occurred in shopping center, restaurant, or bank parking lots. Parking lots open to the public, with customers walking around pushing shopping carts. We often wonder how the thieves do it. Are they specters who materialize in our dimension for a nanosecond, bust your window, swipe your purse, then slither back into that parallel universe where Spock wears a moustache?
The piece offers a good analysis of the vehicle burglary problem in Lodi along with information on how the public can avoid becoming a victim of this crime. Both Lodi Police and the Lodi News-Sentinel are doing a great job in informing the community of crime problems in the community with this column.

Many police agencies are harnessing tools such as social media in order to better communicate with the citizens they serve. Becoming a regular news columnist with the local paper is another way to connect with the community, albeit a pretty unique one.

How is your agency communicating with the community you serve?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Would You Trade Cops For Security Guards?

The nation's economic woes have hit quite a number of city governments. We've seen a bunch of drastic measures that cities have taken in order to cut expenses and stay afloat. Employee layoffs, reduced services and program cuts have all been tried by various cities. USA Today had a story yesterday that detailed plans by the city of Foley, Minnesota to replace their police force with private security guards.
Since it disbanded its police department in 2003, Foley has contracted with the Benton County Sheriff's Office to have three deputies patrol the city, providing coverage for about 17 hours a day. This year, the city paid $24,694 a month for the contract. 
After cuts in state aid and uncertainty about future funding, the Foley City Council started looking at options to save money on policing. The city decided to contract with General Security Services Corp. to provide 24-hour coverage starting in January for about $16,000 a month.
Apparently not everyone thinks this is a real good idea. The story also had this bit about the plan:
In an Oct. 25 letter, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson warned that the city is opening itself up to "financial exposure." She cited the potential for lawsuits for false imprisonment as one example. 
Swanson wrote that private security employees may carry a firearm but can use it only in self-defense. Private guards do not have the authority to make arrests other than citizens' arrests, cannot pursue fleeing suspects, make DWI arrests or even traffic stops. There's also the issue of whether self-incriminating statements or evidence taken from a suspect by a security officer could be used in court, she wrote.
Of course this brings up the subject of who is going to investigate and/or prosecute crimes that are discovered by these rent-a-cops. If there is a murder in Foley can the Sheriff's Office really refuse to investigate it? All the security guards can do in that situation is call for real cops. It seems that the Sheriff's Office is going to be forced to handle it even without the contribution they were getting when the city was paying for Deputies to provide policing services. It looks like the city is going to get off on the cheap and the Sheriff's office is going to end up having to deal with it anyway.

I sure hope that we don't see more of this kind of thing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

For Detroit, Being Number 1 Is A Community Tragedy

Homicide is one of those crimes whose statistics don't seem to make sense. Sometimes you can have a banner year for all other crime stats and the homicide numbers end up going the other direction. There was a story this weekend over at the Detroit Free Press this weekend that looks at the tragedy these statistics often represent for Detroit.

"You have a window that's real small to be able to get as much as you can," Jimenez said. "You do your best work on a case in the first 48 hours because it just happened. Your witnesses are fresher. Your witnesses haven't talked to other people." In the past decade, Detroit's yearly homicide closure rate has ranged from 35% to 45%, but climbed to 54% in 2010, Godbee said. The national average is 65%. For cities with populations of 500,000 to 1 million, the closure rate was 57% in 2010. In 2010, the city recorded 308 homicides, according to the department -- a 15% decline from 2009 and the fewest since 1967, a year of rioting and accelerated flight from the city.

But the number of killings has spiked this year. The department recorded 301 homicides through Nov. 6, a 19% increase for the same period year over year.

"When you slow down the bodies coming in the front door, it gives your investigators more time to actually work on cases," Godbee said. "But when you got two, three, four bodies coming in a night and you have to stop your workload to go triage those cases and start your investigation on those, that has an effect on the ability for the homicide investigator to really dig into their cases."

The entire article is a good read. You can read it here. Looking at the crushing workload they have there in Detroit this year, it makes me glad I work in the sleepy little burg where I do. We may have a bump in the numbers on occasion, but nothing like they have had.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Austin's Serial Tire Slasher Sent To Prison

Since the mid 1990's residents of the Hyde Park area of Austin have been victimized by a serial tire slasher. Over his rather prolific career, Tommy Joe Kelley has allegedly been responsible for damaging hundreds of tires in the neighborhood. The Austin American Statesman has a story on Kelley's recent trial where he was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison. The story included this bit of testimony from convicted slasher.

Kelley, who represented himself during the trial, called the evidence against him circumstantial and said he had been unfairly targeted by police and neighborhood residents because of a 2006 American-Statesman article noting an arrest for criminal mischief.

"Ever since that point, I've been under real tight scrutiny," said Kelley, also known as Tommy Joe Adams.

During his rambling testimony, which was uninterrupted by questioning, Kelley told jurors about what he described as numerous assaults on him that went unpunished and improper arrests by police.

At one point, he said: "I don't walk around carrying a (expletive) knife. I can't. I get stopped so much. I tell you, I get stopped so much I quit buying weed."

Wow, to be so scrutinized that you can't even buy marihuana. What an injustice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Law Enforcement Should Be A Partnership Not An Occupation

Ruben Navarrette over at CNN had a thought provoking opinion piece yesterday titled: Are Police Becoming Militarized? While I don't entirely agree with the whole piece, I think the piece does make a valid point about the role of police in society.
"There's a sense among new recruits that police work is about soldiering," my friend lamented. "And we don't discourage it. In fact, we encourage it -- when (in reality) about 90% of what we do is community relations." 
He's right. Law enforcement isn't about kicking down doors. It's about building and maintaining relationships. 
Police officers have the power to either make their job simpler or more difficult. If they treat people well and build relations, people will cooperate. They'll have leads, witnesses and informants. But if they see the people they're supposed to "protect and serve" the way an occupying army sees the native population, they're going to encounter resistance, suspicion, defiance and other things that make their job harder. That's a recipe for chaos.
As a former SWAT officer, I understand the need for police agencies to be adequately equipped to handle a variety of situations. That sometimes means very dangerous looking assault rifles, body armor and the occasional armored vehicle. But the employment of resources like this should be rare.

Crime suppression is much more effective when then citizens being protected are partners in the effort. There is a line in the Declaration of Independence that says:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The public is much more likely to give their consent if they feel like government, in this case the police, are public servants working on their behalf to make their community safer. This means that they have a say in determining our priorities and our methods. It doesn't mean they entirely dictate these priorities and methods, but, it does mean that we need to have a dialog with them about it. That's what a partnership is.

What are you doing to partner with the community you serve?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dying Art Of Lush Workers

I always enjoy reading about unusual crimes and unusual criminals. There was a piece last week over at the New York Times that looked at the dying art of "lush workers". Lush Workers are a special type of pickpocket thieves that use a razor blade to literally cut the pockets open of their drunken victims.
“It’s like a lost art,” the lieutenant said. “It’s all old-school guys who cut the pocket. They die off.” And they do not seem to be replacing themselves, he said. “It’s like the TV repairman.” 
Lush workers date back at least to the beginning of the last century, their ilk cited in newspaper crime stories like one in The New York Times in 1922, describing “one who picks the pockets of the intoxicated. He is the old ‘drunk roller’ under a new name.” While the term technically applies to anyone who steals from a drunken person, most police officers reserve it for a special kind of thief who uses straight-edge razors found in any hardware store.
Given the dearth of subways in the sleepy little burg where I work, we don't see many lush workers or even pickpockets for that matter. That's probably a good thing too.

I also want to give a tip of the hat to security expert Bruce Schneier for the heads up on the NY Times story.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From Copper To Grease, Thieves Will Take It

NPR had a story yesterday on the rise in thieves targeting used cooking oil collected by restaurants. Given the increased demand for used cooking oil to be recycled into bio-fuels, this isn't too surprising.
Restaurants and grease recyclers have been forced to move barrels inside, lock them up, or install surveillance cameras, according to Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association in Alexandria, Va. "It's become the new copper," a commodity that also attracts thieves, Cook tells The Salt.

Yellow grease, the proper name for cooking oil that's had the food and trash filtered out of it, is selling for about 40 cents a pound, almost five times what it was a decade ago. That means a gallon of yellow grease today sells for more than $3 a gallon — on par with a gallon of milk.
When looking at any crime problem, it often helps to look at it using The Crime Triangle. In repeat theft cases like this, the common denominator is often the place/victim. The first step in dealing with this crime problem is probably to get the victims to exercise better guardianship over their property. This could go a long way towards changing the cost/benefit ratio for the grease thief to one that isn't in his favor.

Any outreach effort focusing on restaurants should also probably include obtaining reliable after hours contact information for the business. That way if an enterprising Patrol Officer catches someone making off with barrels of grease behind the business at 3AM, they can get the victim to respond so a criminal case can be made against the thief.

Has your jurisdiction had success in dealing with grease thieves? What strategy was the easiest and most effective to implement?

Monday, November 7, 2011

What If The City Can't Pay The Light Bill?

The Austin American Statesman had a piece this weekend about the plight faced by Highland Park, Michigan who after huge budget problems not only turned off their street lights, but ripped the poles out as well in order to save money on the light bill.
Highland Park's decision is one of the nation's most extreme austerity measures, even among the scores of communities that can no longer afford to provide basic services. But unlike many other cutbacks that can easily be reversed, this one appears to be permanent. 
The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings. With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago. 
Faced with a $4 million electric bill that required $60,000 monthly payments, Mayor Hubert Yopp asked the City Council to consider reducing lighting. Council members reluctantly approved the plan, even in an election year.
The economic crisis has been pretty severe for many rust belt communities. With drastic measures such as this, it will be interesting to see just how these municipal governments survive.

While we've seen some tighter budgets in the sleepy little burg where I work, we haven't had to deal with anything like this. I also hope we never do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Popular Products Also Popular With Thieves

Apple Computer products such as the iPhone and iPad are wildly popular with consumers. I also have to admit, they are also popular in the Department where I work. One downside to this kid of cult like popularity is the fact that this kind of popularity also means the devices are popular with thieves. Yesterday there was a trio of stories, including two from central Texas regarding thieves targeting the devices, or their owners for crimes.

The first from the tech website Cult of Mac is one where scam artists were targeting people in parking lots offering to sell iPads to passersby. After being show a real iPad in the box, the thieves would substitute an iPad box with a dummy iPad when the purchase was being consummated.

The second story over at the Austin American Statesman detailed an man who arranged to purchase or sell iPhones on Craiglist and then robbing the seller or purchaser at gunpoint when they showed up in a sketchy area to complete the deal.

The last one, also at the Austin American Statesman details a group of thieves in the sleepy little burg where I work, who managed to steal 38 iPads from a Wal-Mart display case and get them out the door.

A while back I covered a chapter in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers where they used the acronym CRAVED to describe some items popular with thieves. The acronym stands for:

  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market.
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.

It pays to keep up with items that are CRAVED by thieves in your community. Identifying these items can help you focus your efforts and preventing, interrupting or reducing crimes that involve them.

What items are CRAVED by thieves in your jurisdiction?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Every Now And Then The Police Need A Helping Hand

Sometimes the police need a bit of help in catching the bad guys. In this instance, fate lent a hand to Hurst, Texas Police as they tried to catch two car thieves during a high speed pursuit. From the story over at the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

A Jefferson man in a stolen car led Hurst police on a brief chase Tuesday afternoon before he and a passenger took a wrong turn and abandoned the car in the wrong place: the Hurst Police Department parking lot.

Doh!

One suspect made it about a hundred yards and the second got about 60 before Hurst police came pouring out of the police station and municipal court to apprehend the duo.

At least the drive to the jail didn't take long.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should a $50 Theft Really Be A Felony?

The nation's poor economy continues to cause people to rethink criminal justice policy. This is probably a good thing. What was once unthinkable, such as questioning the wisdom of harsh prison sentences for minor drug offenses, is now being discussed in many circles. Even staunch law and order conservatives are wondering if the cost of incarceration is worth the huge sums of money it takes to clothe, house and feed prisoners convicted of minor offenses.

There's a story over at USA Today that indicates some states that are reconsidering the felony classification of certain property crimes in order to save money by prosecuting these crimes as misdemeanors.

State officials and criminal justice analysts said budget crises have forced state lawmakers, sometimes at political risk, to enact less punitive measures for criminal offenders. "Clearly one of the motivating factors is cost," said Alison Shames, associate director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the Vera Institute of Justice, an advocacy group. "States are looking at the numbers of people in prison for property crimes and asking themselves a simple question: Does everybody really need to be there?"

Of course, the unspoken secret is that many of these "felony" offenses aren't really being punished as felony offenses. In the sleepy little burg where I work it's not unusual to see probation being handled out for second and third offenses of Burglary Of A Habitation which here in Texas is a second degree felony. For reference, Murder is a first degree felony.

I guess if you call it a second degree felony but the offender never makes it to the state prison then the lawmakers can call themselves tough on crime without actually having to write the check to pay for it. The offender gets a felony on his record and the county gets to pick up the cost of prosecuting said felon and housing him in the county lockup until he gets sentenced to probation.

And here in Texas we love to classify offenses as felonies even if we don't punish them like they're felonies. By some counts we're already up to over 2,000 felony offenses on the books. Maybe one day we'll rethink how we classify offenses and actually have a little truth in sentencing. Severe where it needs to be, but reasonable where it should be.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How To Explain Predictive Policing

There have been quite a number of news stories about predictive policing. I've written about so many recently, that I had to give my posts about them their own category tag. But the potential for predictive policing has been hard to explain.

This past weekend there was a story over at the Orlando Sentinel looking at Palm Beach County's experiment with predictive policing. In the piece there was this bit:

"If you're driving a car, [current data analysis] is a rear-view mirror," Palm Beach County Sheriff's Maj. Karl Durr said. "Predictive policing is looking forward in the front windshield.

"Law enforcement is constantly looking in rear-view mirror," he said, "and now we're looking forward."

That's probably the most concise analogy for the potential that predictive policing holds for law enforcement that I have seen so far.

Monday, October 31, 2011

No Crime Is Unimportant To The Victim

The New York Times had a story this weekend about the family of a murder victim and what they went through in dealing with this crime. There was a quote from the victim's son in the story that I thought was worth exploring.

“There are hundreds of cases a year that go unsolved,” he said. “It’s a small homicide case. It’s not high-profile. But to me, it’s the biggest thing in the world.”

Deep down inside the most jaded cop, if they were honest they would likely say that they got into law enforcement because they wanted to help people, or as I used to half jokingly tell people, "to crush crime and evil and to make the world safe for women and babies".

Something that we would do well to remember in all our work is that no matter how ordinary a crime might seem to us, it's an extraordinary event to the victim and their family. They deserve our compassion and they deserve our best work.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fear, Reality and Crime Statistics

There was a piece over at the Indiana news outlet WLFI.com about crime numbers in Lafayette, Indiana. What I found interesting about this was the difference between the public's perception of crime in the community and what an analysis of crime statistics by Lafayette Police's crime analyst revealed.
A police action shooting that killed a man after he stabbed an officer in his face left a woman saying, "How horrible Lafayette is turning out!" Some others NewsChannel 18 spoke with around town had similar concerns about the crime rate. 
"It's a little bit more crime than when I used to come here and visit my grandma when I was a kid," said Allen Ferguson, who now delivers pizza around West Lafayette. 
But Lafayette Police Crime Analyst Steve Hawthorne said those concerns are unfounded. 
"I would certainly disagree with them," Hawthorne said. "We've certainly been seeing the crime decrease over the years, steadily for the past five years or so. Now we do see some inconsistency by month, but that's typical."
There are probably a number of reasons why the public's perception of crime doesn't square with reality. The media probably plays a role in this, after all their job is to get people to buy their papers or to watch their news broadcast. Lurid crime stories tend to draw readers/viewers so there is a natural tendency for people to focus on these events.

The media is also more ubiquitous than ever before with smartphone apps, websites, Twitter, Facebook etc. People now spend more time immersed in news stories from all over the globe within minutes of an event occurring. This constant barrage of crime stories reinforces the mistaken perception that crime is "everywhere" and getting worse.

We also have a tendency to want to believe the worst. If there is a murder in your community, how many times do you find yourself thinking "What's this world coming to?" But according to the 2010 Uniform Crime Reports the reality of murder is this:
An estimated 14,748 persons were murdered nationwide in 2010. This was a 4.2 percent decrease from the 2009 estimate, a 14.8 percent decrease from the 2006 figure, and an 8.0 percent decrease from the 2001 estimate.
According to Centers For Disease Control statistics, In 2009 there were 16,591 deaths due to assault/homicides. However, the leading cause of death was heart disease with 598,607 deaths. Homicide isn't even in the top ten leading causes of death (it's #15). In fact, you're more likely to die of Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, suicide, the flu, diabetes, accidents, cancer, etc. than for you to have murder listed on your death certificate.

So next time you see a crime story that gets your anxiety level up, take a deep breath and remember the reality is probably not as bad as we perceive it to be.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hell Hath No Fury

It's not too uncommon for someone to accuse a former flame of a crime in order to get back at them or otherwise make their life miserable. However, it's not often that they go to the lengths this woman is accused of going. The Los Angeles Times has a great piece on what one man went through after he was accused of abducting, torturing and sexually assaulting the mother of his child.

She said Gonzalez ambushed her in the garage, dragged her to an upstairs bedroom, hogtied her with her clothes, singed her with matches and assaulted her vaginally and anally with a wooden coat hanger. Then, she said, he forced a plastic bag over her head and held it tight, and she feigned unconsciousness until he left.

The really terrifying part was that none of it was true.

The detective tried to imagine West hating her son's father enough to injure herself in such a methodical way. Tying the cord around her own neck, cutting off clumps of her hair, battering her own face, burning her own skin … and the other things. His mind strained at the effort.

He'd seen people give themselves a scratch or bruise, to impersonate victims, but nothing like this. "My God," he said, "to this extent?"

The whole piece by Christopher Goffard of the LA Times is worth the read. Hit the link to read it. I'm just glad that this kind of thing is a rarity. There's enough real violent crimes for the police to investigate.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Cops Dying, But Why?

CNN has a story covering remarks by Eric Holder at this week's International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. In the story there was this:
"Law enforcement fatalities are nearly 20 percent higher than this time last year. And gunfire deaths have increased by nearly 30 percent," Holder said. 
"Today, line-of-duty officer deaths are approaching the highest rates we've seen in almost two decades," Holder told the police chiefs. "This is a devastating and unacceptable trend, and each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats that law enforcement officers face each day."
There is also more information contained in a story posted yesterday at the FBI's website. The story highlights some of the data contained in the Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted (LEOKA) report for 2010 which was released yesterday.

"Hey, let's be careful out there."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Level of Service Will You Pay For?

There were a couple of sources commenting on a new Department of Justice report looking at the affect the economic downturn is having on police. A USA Today article had this bit:
"The effects of the economic downturn on law enforcement agencies may be felt for the next five to 10 years, or worse, permanently,'' the report concluded, adding that the days when local governments allocated up to 50% of their budgets for public safety are "no longer a fiscal possibility.''
The article also stated that 12,000 police officers will have lost their jobs by the end of the year and another 30,000 positions will remain unfilled by law enforcement agencies across the country.

This information comes from a DOJ report that is due to be released at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference today. The DOJ report titled The Impact of the Economic Downturn on American Police Agencies can be obtained here.

A couple of interesting bits from the report are how the economy has affected the services police provide or no longer provide as the case may be.
  • Eight percent of departments surveyed are no longer responding to all motor vehicle thefts.
  • Nine percent of departments are no longer responding to all burglar alarms.
  • Fourteen percent of departments are no longer responding to all non-injury motor vehicle accidents.
I would imagine that these numbers are only going to rise. I know that we've had discussions about changes in the services we provide here in the sleepy little burg where I work. We've been pretty fortunate that we have not had to make significant changes yet, but I have a feeling that we will have to make some hard decisions in the future. 

That being said, it's important that law enforcement agencies work to be as efficient as possible if they are going to survive. It's also important that we are able to determine what level of service our communities are willing to pay for. 

Are you ready to discuss what level of service your community is willing to pay for? Have you identified services that could likely be curtailed with the least effect on public safety?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Prevention Is Always Cheaper Than Incarceration

USA Today recently had an article looking at the impact that life prison sentences was having on states' corrections budgets. Inside the article was this great quote from one of Texas' own state legislators.

"The challenge for us is to distinguish between the offenders we are afraid of — those who deserve to be locked up for life — and those who we are just mad at and who can be handled outside of prison," Texas state Sen. John Whitmire said.

Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, helped lead an effort to divert hundreds of offenders to less expensive treatment programs outside of prison. He said the cost of basic housing for an inmate serving life — calculated at $30,000 per year — can easily top $1 million over the inmate's lifetime.

Of course, there is also something to be said about trying to divert or discourage people from entering the criminal justice system altogether. That would ultimately be the cheapest option. Yet in an era when nearly every politician regardless of party affiliation wants to be seen as tough on crime, often at the expense of social programs, it's hard for the value of some programs to get through the rhetoric.

For example, providing accessible and effective drug and alcohol treatment programs can help keep people with substance abuse issues out of the criminal justice system. Yet, these types of programs are often the first to be cut when times get tight.

Let's just hope that our cost cutting doesn't prove to be awfully expensive in the long run.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Compassionate Parole Denied For "Onion Field" Cop Killer

Back when I was a young criminal justice student, I read all of Joseph Wambaugh's books and absolutely loved them. One of the best was Wambaugh's book The Onion Field which was one of Wambaugh's few non-fiction books. The book chronicles an incident in 1963 where two Los Angeles Police officers were kidnapped by two criminals, driven to an onion field where one of the officers, Ian Campbell was executed and the other, Karl Hettinger managed to escape the same fate as his partner.

There's a story over at The Los Angeles Times where they note that the lone remaining cop killer who is now 78 and dying of cancer was denied release on a compassionate parole.
But during an hourlong hearing in the state capital, no one spoke on Powell's behalf. 
In fact, authorities asserted, he prefers to die in prison. Members of the victim's family and the law enforcement community told commissioners that was just fine with them. 
"The only way Gregory Powell should leave prison is in a body bag," said Pat Corral, a niece of Ian Campbell, the slain officer. 
Scott Rate, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Powell's life sentence "is not a sentence of 'imprisonment until a terminal illness develops.' It should be expected that he spend his last waking moments deprived of freedom."
 It's awful hard to extend compassion to someone who showed no compassion to Officer Ian Campbell or Officer Karl Hettinger.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Murder Victims Should Never Be Forgotten

Matthew McGough over at Miller-McCune has an outstanding story on the genesis of Los Angeles PD's Cold Case Homicide squad. In nearly every police department in the United States there are unsolved homicides that are years or even decades old. LAPD was no different. In fact, the nearly 10 year old Cold Case squad has nearly 9,000 unsolved homicides to work dating back to the 1960's. That unit was started by now retired LAPD detective David Lambkin.

But Lambkin felt there was no more dignified work than trying to solve murders that society seemed to have forgotten. For victims’ families, he says, “this stuff never goes away. After awhile, they get tired of dealing with the department, and they quit calling. So there’s a huge moral reason to be looking back at them, now that we have these new tools.” The new tools were the revolutionary DNA, ballistics, and fingerprint databases that had come online in the 1990s. Lambkin had avidly followed their evolution. He knew these databases were rapidly improving detectives’ ability to identify people who very likely believed that they’d gotten away with murder.

In countless cases, Lambkin had seen firsthand how technology had made it possible to divine new leads from old crime-scene evidence. Given the number of long-unsolved murders on the LAPD’s rolls, and how much unanalyzed evidence the department was sitting on, Lambkin had no doubt that a cold case unit would be successful. For almost a decade, he’d lobbied for the LAPD to create one.

McGough does a really good job of documenting the huge undertaking that starting the unit was for Detective Lambkin. It is definitely worth reading the whole piece. It's also informative for those who don't realize just how labor intensive solving homicides can be, especially cold case homicides.

When I first was transferred from a detective position to the crime analysis unit in the sleepy little burg where I work, I set out to catalog a definitive list of all the cold case homicides we had. I spent quite a bit of time in our records vault pouring over microfilms and going through our homicide books to come up with a list of cold cases dating back to the early 1970's. Recently our Major Crimes Unit has added more names and case numbers to that list.

I found digging through these old files to be fascinating. I also found it heartbreaking that so many of these victims had the story of the end of their lives relegated to dusty files and microfilms.

What's your agency doing with the cold case homicides gathering dust in your files?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Arrest Not Always The Answer To Every Crime Problem

USA Today had a great piece on how Providence, Rhode Island Police have used the "High Point" strategy to turn a formerly violent housing project into a safe place for people to live. From the story:
Non-violent, low-level dealers are called in to meet with police, prosecutors, community members and social service agencies. They're shown video and other evidence of their dealing. The dealers are told that if they're caught selling drugs again, they'll be prosecuted based on the case police have built against them. "Banking" that case allows police to make a credible prosecution threat, Kennedy said. 
Community members tell the dealers to stop because they're destroying their neighborhoods and families. Social workers promise to help them get straight. 
People who live in those communities say it makes a "night and day" difference in their lives. 
"On a scale of zero to 10, it used to be a zero, and now it's a 10. That's how good it is," said Rolando Matos, who has lived in Chad Brown for seven years. "It's peaceful. You can be outside and not worry about people shooting."
A program like this might not appease the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd but now that the economic realities of using incarceration to solve societal problems has proven to less than palatable, strategies such as Providence's High Point strategy have more of a chance.

Programs like this reinforce the mantra: "You can't always arrest your way out of every crime problem." Besides, no one really cares how a crime problem got solved, just that it got solved. Don't be afraid to apply non-traditional strategies to crime problems in your community.

I was involved in a discussion this morning with several police supervisors on how we could use non-traditional thinking to solve a crime and disorder problem in the sleepy little burg where I work. Fortunately, we had the experience of using a similar strategy to solve a different crime problem a few years ago so we already had a proven strategy to work with.

What crime problems in your community might benefit from a non-traditional approach?